Donated embryos help couples have child

Couple shares personal story

INDIANAPOLIS - Unable to conceive naturally, Paul and Jessica spent seven years praying for a baby. One day, after three failed adoptions, Jessica was desperate for another option.

"We just realized this just wasn't our path," she said.

Jessica took to Google, looking for other ways to have a baby. Through years of waiting and thousands of prayers, they had no idea a simple Internet search would lead them to the National Embryo Donation Center in Tennessee.

"I guess I just got lucky that they were on the Internet and had such a searchable site," said Jessica.

The National Embryo Donation Center describes itself online as a "non-profit organization committed to protecting the lives and dignity of human embryos by promoting, facilitating and educating about embryo donation and embryo adoption."

The idea was foreign to Paul and Jessica.

"We'd never heard of it before," Paul said.

That's why they shared their story with RTV6, hoping to ensure other couples who are also having problems expanding their family understand the option exists.

"If we were going through this 20 years ago, I don't think this would have been an option," said Jessica.

The National Embryo Donation Center said 15,831 donated embryos were transferred industry-wide, between 2004 and 2011. At their facilities, 516 donated embryos were transferred, which led to 319 babies being born.

Dr. David Carnovale, medical director of the Community Physician Network Fertility Specialty Care, said there are at least 400,000 embryos frozen in tanks right now, leftover from IVF procedures.

Once a family is finished having children through in vitro fertilization, they have the option to freeze the embryos indefinitely, donate them to research, destroy them or donate the embryos to another couple.

As IVF gained popularity over its now 35 years of existence, more embryos were created, thus more decisions from biological parents.

For Paul and Jessica, the option couldn't be more perfect. Unlike adoption, embryo donation allowed Jessica to control the pregnancy. Plus, the couple is Catholic. IVF wasn’t an option for them.

However, because the embryos were already created, embryo donation did not interfere with their faith beliefs.

"Who would have thought that we could be pregnant from someone else's embryos?" said Jessica.

Turns out, they would.

Paul and Jessica acquired ten embryos from the National Embryo Donation Center. In Tennessee, embryo transfer is covered under property law.

"Essentially, when they were signed over to us, it was as property and so the parents have no recourse to come back and say that this is our child," Paul said.

Carnovale preps women for the procedure the same way he would for IVF. The science behind the two procedures' success is the same.

"All we really need is the woman receiving the embryo to have a functioning uterus. She doesn't need to have her ovaries. She doesn't need to have her fallopian tubes," he said.

First, the woman’s uterus is prepped with hormones, allowing the walls to thicken. This allows a woman’s body to be able to carry a baby, much like a menstruation cycle.

"We then will take the embryos place them in a catheter similar to this and go up through the natural openings in the uterus to position them inside the uterus," he said.

Paul and Jessica were elated when the transfer worked. She was pregnant with twins.

"One night at 21 weeks, we ended up going to the hospital and spent five days there, at the end of which they were born alive, but their lungs hadn't developed yet," Paul said.

The babies didn't survive. Paul and Jessica were left saddened again.

"It was just that, on top of everything else, that made it more and more difficult each time. And, each time, it was a little bit more difficult to add on," said Paul.

To this day, they believe the twins are watching down on them as angels. However, the will to have a child had not disappeared.

"I just knew that I was meant to be a mom," said Jessica.

Then, about a year and a half ago, they received great news.

"Last March, we found out we were pregnant with just one," said Paul.

Joy at last. Jessica had a healthy pregnancy. Then, nine months later, she had a healthy baby. Linus was born and is now every bit as vocal and active as any other child.

After tens of thousands of dollars in adoption costs and more than $10,000 dollars for each embryo transfer, Paul and Jessica call Linus their "$100,000 baby." He was worth every penny.

"It's just all worth it. The pain and struggle we went through, it's just not even in your mind when you see that big smile," said Jessica.

Of the 10 embryos Paul and Jessica started with, four remain. One day, they hope to give Linus a little brother or sister.

Indiana does not currently have a statute on embryo donation. A group of attorneys plans to lobby lawmakers to change that.

For now, couples like Jessica and Paul travel outside the state so embryo donations are legally protected.

More on embryo donation: http://bit.ly/1e3P0b9

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